Who Is the Most Famous Person in the World, Statistically?

August 29th, 2016

Fame has been newly measured by Eric Schulman, continuing the series of studies he began in 2001. We are famously proud to publish the new paper here, as famously as we were to publish the earlier papers. Read the paper here, below, and if you like, also download it in PDF form: MEASURING FAME-part2-2016-09.



by Eric Schulman, Alexandria, Virginia

Abstract Donald Trump.

1. Introduction

In this fifth paper on measuring fame quantitatively, we summarize the changes in fame over the past 15 years and identify the person we believe to be the most famous person in the world at the present time. Our previous research (Schulman 1999, Schulman and Boissier 2001, Schulman 2006, and Schulman 2009) showed that many people are famous to some extent and that Internet search engines can measure the exact fame of such people by comparing the number of search engine hits for the person to the number of search engine hits for a universal standard of fame.

2. Methods

We use the methods of Schulman (2009) to measure the current fame of the 49 subjects in the longitudinal study first described in (Schulman 2006), who asserted that people we perceive as ‘A’ List celebrities are on average ten times more famous than people we perceive as ‘B’ List celebrities, who are on average ten times more famous than people we perceive as ‘C’ List celebrities, and so on. The 49 subjects are from seven different fields (business, film, music, politics, religion, science, and sports) and their fame has been measured five times between 2001 and the present using the logarithmic international standard unit of fame, the dBHa (Schulman 2009):

fame(dBHa) = 10 log [fame(Ha)],

where fame(Ha) is the number of Google hits for the person divided by the number of Google hits for George Harrison, the archetypal ‘B’ List celebrity whose fame is 0 dBHa by definition. Other celebrities are therefore classified as follows:

  • ‘A+’ List fame > +15 dBHa
  • ‘A’ List +5 dBHa < fame < +15 dBHa
  • ‘B’ List 5 dBHa < fame < +5 dBHa
  • ‘C’ List 15 dBHa < fame < 5 dBHa
  • ‘D’ List 25 dBHa < fame < 15 dBHa
  • ‘E’ List 35 dBHa < fame < 25 dBHa
  • ‘F’ List 45 dBHa < fame < 35 dBHa
  • ‘G’ List 55 dBHa < fame < 45 dBHa
  • ‘H’ List fame < 55 dBHa

This factor of ten difference between categories is analogous to the concept behind the Richter magnitude scale, in which a 6.5-magnitude earthquake has a shaking amplitude that is ten times larger than that of a 5.5-magnitude earthquake.

3. Results

Table 1 shows our classification of the 49 longitudinal study subjects since January 2001.


The Hits columns show the number of Google hits that each subject had in January 2001, October 2005, October 2008, February 2009, and August 2016; the Fame columns show their fame in dBHa; and the List column shows their celebrity category as of August 2016. The Hits, Fame, and List entries are color-coded so that ‘A’ List celebrity entries are red, ‘B’ List celebrity

entries are orange, ‘C’ List celebrity entries are yellow, ‘D’ List celebrity entries are green, ‘E’ List celebrity entries are blue, ‘F’ List celebrity entries are called indigo but are really light purple, ‘G’ List celebrity entries are called violet but are really dark purple, and ‘H’ List celebrity entries are called ultraviolet but are really white. The names and fields of one typical celebrity in each category are similarly colored (there were no ‘F’ or ‘G’ celebrities who have been in those categories since 2001, but each category had one subject who has been in that category since 2005).

Note that all the fame observations in Table 1 were taken in the United States and the results in other countries could be different. In order to assess the potential impact of this effect, fame observations of seven ‘A’ List through ‘E’ List celebrities were made in Australia and the United Kingdom. The Australia and United Kingdom fame of six of the seven celebrities was within 1% of the United States fame. The seventh celebrity, George Harrison, was 10% less famous in Australia and 13% less famous in the United Kingdom compared to the United States. It is unclear why the archetypal ‘B’ List celebrity would have the highest fame variance. Researchers outside the United States are encouraged to study this issue more thoroughly.

4. Discussion

Table 1 provides a wealth of data worthy of comment. For example, the Lennon Theorem (1966) stated that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus,” but this has not been true in any of the fame observations since 2001. A determination of whether the Lennon Theorem was true in 1966 is beyond the scope of this paper, but we can state that The Beatles are not currently more popular than Cristiano Ronaldo, who is 1.6 dBHa more famous. Another item of note is that the percentage of ‘B’ List celebrities in the study has decreased dramatically, from 18% in 2005 to just 4% in 2016. This is even more remarkable because of the fact that there must, by definition, be at least one ‘B’ List celebrity in the study (George Harrison). Of the nine ‘B’ List celebrities from 2005, one (John Lennon) has become an ‘A’ List celebrity and six have become ‘C’ List celebrities. The sole ‘H’ List celebrity from 2005 to 2009, Elisabeth Scheneman, is now a Chief of Staff at the Pennsylvania Department of Health and has become a ‘G’ List celebrity.

Although it is simple to determine who the most famous is among a particular group of subjects, determining the most famous person of all is non-trivial. Schulman (2009) concluded that Barack Obama was the most famous person in the world in February 2009, and since his fame was greater than +15 dBHa (+16.3 dBHa), he was in a celebrity category by himself: an ‘A+’ List celebrity. This is no longer the case, as his fame has dropped to +12.1 dBHa over the past seven and a half years and he is now an ‘A’ List celebrity. In fact, he has been overtaken by one of the people seeking his job: Donald Trump now has a fame of +14.0 dBHa (for those who are curious, Hillary Clinton has a fame of +12.0 dBHa, Gary Johnson has a fame of –1.9 dBHa, Jill Stein has a fame of –2.7 dBHa, and Evan McMullin has a fame of –10.7 dBHa).

5. Conclusion

Donald Trump is the most famous person in the world, but he is not as famous as Barack Obama was in 2009.

August mini-AIR: Worst Myopia Claw; Kissing, then Redness, etc.

August 29th, 2016

The August issue of mini-AIR (our monthly e-mail newsletter) just went out. (mini-AIR is a wee little supplement to the magazine itself). Topics include:

  • Worst Myopia Claw Intraocular Lens
  • Kissing, Then Redness
  • Heads Versus Risk Limerick Contest
  • and more
It also has info about upcoming events.

Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”

mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.

Want to mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just opt in.

The pleasure of being nasty

August 29th, 2016

Dr. Klaus Abbink (pictured) of Monash Business School has (along with colleague Prof. Dr. Abdolkarim Sadrieh) experimentally examined the question of pleasure derived from deliberate nastiness – specifically with regard to joy-of-destruction.

klaus-abbinkIn the joy-of-destruction game that we introduce, players can burn each other’s money, but we have removed all conventional reasons to do so. No material gain is achieved, no wrongdoing is punished, no inequality is reduced. Nevertheless, we observe a substantial incidence of nasty behavior in our hidden treatment, where spiteful actions could be covered by random destruction. When destruction is open, it rapidly goes away, but the treatment difference shows that this decline is due to fear of retaliation, not due to kindness.”

Their paper on the subject, The Pleasure of Being Nasty was published in Economics Letters, Volume 105, Issue 3, December 2009, Pages 306–308. A full copy of the work may be found here.


“Promise and Ontological Ambiguity in the In vitro Meat Imagescape”

August 28th, 2016

Promise and ontological ambiguity in the in vitro meat imagescape is focus of a newly published study called “Promise and Ontological Ambiguity in the In vitro Meat Imagescape.” The study is:

Promise and Ontological Ambiguity in the In vitro Meat Imagescape: From Laboratory Myotubes to the Cultured Burger,” Neil Stephens and Martin Ruivenkamp, Science as Culture, vol. 25, no. 3, 2016.  The authors, at Brunel University London, Middlesex, UK, and University of Applied Sciences, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, explain:


“In vitro meat (IVM), also known as cultured meat, involves growing cells into muscle tissue to be eaten as food. The technology had its most high-profile moment in 2013 when a cultured burger was cooked and tasted in a press conference. Images of the burger featured in the international media and were circulated across the Internet. These images—literally marks on a two-dimensional surface—do important work in establishing what IVM is and what it can do. A combination of visual semiotics and narrative analysis shows that images of IVM afford readings of their story that are co-created by the viewer. Before the cultured burger, during 2011, images of IVM fell into four distinct categories: cell images, tissue images, flowcharts, and meat in a dish images. The narrative infrastructure of each image type affords different interpretations of what IVM can accomplish and what it is. The 2013 cultured burger images both draw upon and depart from these image types in an attempt to present IVM as a normal food stuff, and as ‘matter in place’ when placed on the plate.”

(Thanks to Tom Gill for bringing this to our attention.)

Pithy thesis summaries, by truthful thesis authors

August 27th, 2016

Laugh, if you will, at these pithy summaries, in plain language, of academic theses. Who wrote the summaries? The people who wrote the theses — each summarizing their own work. It’s all on the web site LOLmythesis.com

(Thanks to Ivan Oransky for bringing this to our attention.)